David Shepherd MA

David Shepherd MA
Housemaster & Warden
1975 - 1990

KHS School Report
1975 - 1990


David Shepherd MA

Housemaster to The Warden (Head teacher)

The school in 1975 would have been familiar to boys from forty years earlier; the school in 1990 would be recognisable to today's students. But both groups would have found the other periods unusual and in many respects very strange.

My wife and I came to The Hill on a short term basis. Our predecessors in Bradford, the Underwoods, were moving on to Eastbourne where Adrian had been appointed head of a girls school, Moira House. Teddy Cooper had recruited a successor, a man called Peters on the staff at Charterhouse but Peters had asked if he could delay his arrival until the following January as he wanted to complete his final term as the soccer coach there. Teddy, showing one of his many attributes but one which was known only to those of us who were beneficiaries, had a sympathy for men trying to find work in the UK after periods of service overseas. Edward Bachelor and Ralph Mann are two who come immediately to mind. I was returning from having been head of a school in Jamaica, was finding it difficult to obtain a suitable post from overseas so Teddy offered me the opportunity of running Bradford and keeping the English Department warm for a term between the departure of Adrian and the arrival of the Peters. He generously said that being in the UK would make it easier for me to be available for interviews.

A recent photograph of David Shepherd.
A recent photograph of David Shepherd.

On the first day of the autumn term Teddy received back-word from Peters - his wife was in ill-health - so he asked us to join the staff on a permanent basis.

Those of you who were there at the time and in previous generations will recognise what it was like. The House-parents accommodation and the boarding facilities were inextricably mingled together, in different ways according to the layout of the individual houses but marked by a sharing of many facilities. None of the traditional 'green baize door.' The hall and landing in Bradford were used indiscriminately by my family and by the boys, the access to the dormitories went past my children's bedrooms, of necessity they went to their bathroom in dressing gowns, the boys upstairs loo was immediately opposite our bedroom so my wife and I had the pleasure of the royal flush all night long, the house-parents kitchen was immediately off the hall so that boys stood at the door chatting with Mrs Shepherd while she prepared the family meal. Thus there was a very strong sense of family, of shared living.

Bradford House

The other distinctive characteristic was the fact that all the boys shared in the housework, again familiar enough to those who were there but quite remarkable to later generations. You will remember the rota. All the jobs needed to enable the house to operate - cleaning the house kitchen, mopping the showers, hoovering the day rooms, sweeping the dormitories, wielding the Ronuk polisher on the wooden floors - plus those in the school kitchens and dining rooms - appeared on a list with the boy's house number against it. Each week the rota changed so that by the time a boy had gone through three years in the house before Sixth Form he had done every job that needed to be done to enable the house to operate as a living, domestic community. And the system was operated by the House Prefects.

I recognise that you can rationalise almost any system. Current staff have observed to me, on occasions when I have visited the school, that it is quite impossible in the present climate to expect parents to pay the sort of fees they meet and have their children do domestic chores. And it easy to present the system as a source of cheap labour. Yet you can also acknowledge the lessons that the system taught - how to look after yourself, how to contribute to the overall welfare of the community of which you are a part, how to do things you would rather not do simply because the community needs your involvement, how you benefit from what others do just as they benefit from what you do, how the less than satisfactory performance of your duties reduces the effectiveness of the whole body politic.

It also meant that from the moment a boy joined the house he had a function, a position, a responsibility which was uniquely his. He might have preferred not to have it, but he immediately shared in a corporate life, a life which was less effective if he did not do that which was solely his to do. There was no point in complaining that the showers were dirty if you hadn't hoovered the day room properly.

And finally it reflected the history of the school, a place where in its earliest incarnation the boys lived as 'at home' because for whatever reason their real home had drawbacks. And how many of us at home have paid staff to do the cooking, the washing up and the cleaning?

Of course there were odd whimsies, not always known to the boys. All the boys had a house number, a combination of the house letter - in the case of Bradford this was BH - and the individual number, and labels bearing this number were stitched on to everyone's clothes. Mrs Shepherd, as those of you who were there at the time will recall, is Austrian. On occasions her mother, who spoke no English, would come to stay with us and would help by sitting in the linen room stitching on labels. If ever you found her chuckling it is because BH is the abbreviation for the German word for bra - Bustenhalter - she found it wonderfully amusing to sit there stitching 'bra' into rugby shirts and underpants. A silly story I know - sorry - but distinctive to Bradford House.

Teddy Cooper retired in 1978, John Mash succeeded him and for reasons that do not concern me here left suddenly at Easter 1981. The governors asked to me to act after his departure and officially appointed me Warden during the course of the summer term.

The most obvious change during John Mash's time was the physical restructuring of the boarding house, so that staff accommodation became separate from that used by the boys. Thus the situation described earlier in this article, of staff family and pupils living closely together, disappeared. Of all the changes, no house jobs and separate accommodation are perhaps the two most obvious differences between the lives of current pupils and those from generations prior to 1980.

The Eighties

What shall I select? Some physical differences first. The Trustees decided to sell the farm, the principle being that they believed they could generate more money for the Trust from investment than from farm income. The evidence of this sale is apparent to me every time I drive along the road from Chipping Norton to Churchill, glance across at the Hill and see the square of land carved out from the large field behind the chapel. I persuaded the governors to save a piece of land from that field, not because I at that time had any specific use for it in mind but simply because I was pretty sure a need would arise and that once the land had been sold it would be impossible to get it back. It pleases me to see it being used for the relocated assault course.

Top and Bottom. The two small pitches below Bradford are known, or at least they were in my time, as Top and Bottom. Are they still? The reasons for the name are not that one is higher than the other but that we dug them out of a fenced paddock, in which grazed two horses, called Top and Bottom. Boys rode them, though they were both such well fed and solid beasts there was little danger of their galloping off into the sunset. The names of the horses have a family history. Jim Woolliams, housemaster of Plymouth for many years, had an aunt living in the neighbourhood known as Auntie Top. You must ask Jim why she was so called among her relatives. She gave the horse to the school, so it was named after her. When the school acquired a second horse it was inevitably named Bottom. So when current pupils go for a kick-around on Top or Bottom Field, they might like to remember the horses, and indeed Auntie Top.

The Pool. Those who were there before the 1980s will remember the uncovered pool. Indeed the very old ones might even remember the pool down the hill close to Cornwell Manor, formed by damming the brook. But swimming in the open air, unheated pool, the one beside the gym, was a test of resolve. Indeed it was rarely before the middle of summer that the pool became warm enough to use with any pleasure and by then the boys had gone home for their holidays and it was a popular facility for the resident staff and their families. The question of covering and heating it was discussed at great length. Eventually I paid a visit to Cranford School down in Dorset to see the plastic bubble they had used for their pool. It seemed suited to our needs, the cost was something we could consider and so it was during the 80s that we could at last use the pool all year round. Of course it was a primitive solution compared to the present magnificent facility but it was better than its predecessor.

The open air swimming pool at Kingham Hill School



More important though than physical amenities are the activities in a school. Again, what to select!

The Greens. The school has an enviable and fully justified reputation for excellence in Learning Support of various kinds. You have to realise that dyslexia, SLD, learning support and so on were only just emerging as educational phenomena in the early 80s. There was the education officer in I think Kent who famously said that dyslexia was a disease invented by the middle classes to account for the poor educational performance of their children! Much of the credit for the development of this crucial side of school's work goes to Hilary Green, who I appointed initially as a teacher of rural science but who rapidly moved into the full range of SLD. Where to locate her department? Above the two rooms at the end of the corridor in top school were storerooms, used as places in which to keep props and supplies for school plays, hence known as the Green Rooms. They seemed a possible place, so the SLD department moved there and the combination of Mrs Green in the Green Room made it right to call the new department the Greens. And I'm happy to see that the name has stuck, and the current magnificent facilities for the Greens show that the work started by Mrs Green has flourished.

Green Room exterior

Mention of the green room reminds me of the occasion when a member of staff took some boys up there to get some props, but came back down having left one poor lad locked in. He banged and shouted to no effect so eventually looked in the props baskets, found a sword obviously left over from a production of Hamlet, and pushed it down with all his might between the floor boards. Godfrey Nicholson, teaching maths in the room below, was amazed, and his class delighted, to see a sword coming down through the ceiling. Maths was never the same again!

CDT. The other great educational movement as the 70s moved into the 80s was the shift from traditional craft work - woodwork, metal work, engineering drawing - to Design Technology and all the developments eg computer aided design, which have followed. Bob Herringshaw and I travelled round the country, visiting schools such as Shrewsbury where arguably the whole initiative began, to a huge comprehensive school in Milton Keynes which had just opened a state of the art facility. On the basis of what we saw and in discussions with the architects we came up with the present lay-out, obviously modified over the years in response to shifting demands but serving, it would seem from the visits I have subsequently paid, the purposes for which we created it. We might not have got it totally right - you will have to ask our successors - but we seem not to have got it very wrong.

CCF. It is impossible to overstate the importance and the influence of the CCF in the school's life. Of course this is not restricted to the 80s but that period saw the development within the CCF programme of a range of outdoor pursuits under Bob Shepton and specifically the sailing trips in his boat, Dodo's Delight. Starting with short expeditions across the Channel, then to the Azores, then across the Atlantic, then to Greenland and Newfoundland, and leading eventually to the round the world venture in the 90s. It was not easy for the school to sanction them. The memory of Rohilla is still keenly felt. Teddy Cooper gently asked me to be careful of what we did - he felt the pain of Rohilla as much as anyone and he feared a repeat.

But the fact of so many boys following service careers is tribute to the inspiration which the CCF at that time, and in other periods too, provide for generations of Kingham Hill students. I think of Malcolm Brecht, just completing his three years as CO at RAF Brize Norton, Adam Mallalieu who was very senior in the SBS, Roger Hughes and Nigel Bartlett who appeared in full Marines rig at the funeral of Les Peake. There are many more.

Les Peake

Les Peake at David Shepherd's farewell party. Les was the SM of the CCF and he was very popular among lots of the Old Boys in the 1980/1990s.


Cycling in Europe. The cycling and camping trips, which I and Rodney Chapman and Bob and Elizabeth Herringshaw took for several years, are another indication of the way in which things were changing as the 80s merged into the 90s. We would take a couple of school mini buses, laden with camping gear, and perhaps 15 or 20 boys on bikes and off we would go - Waterloo, Holland and Arnhem, First World War sites in Northern France, the Normandy Beaches. First thing in the morning we gave the boys maps and sent them off, in groups of two or three, with instructions to be at point X at mid-day for lunch. Then we'd all assemble at the appointed time, something to eat, then another map to the next camp site at 5.00. Risk assessment, health and safety, pre-visits to check that all is appropriate - all these things were yet to come. But I admire enormously the accounts I hear now each year at Speech Day of working parties to Romania and such like; clearly the challenges of Health and Safety are being met and overcome.

Centenary. 1986 saw the celebrations of the school's centenary. All sorts of events with perhaps the highlights being a special service at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, with the sermon from a Kingham Hill Trustee, Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith; Centenary Speech Day with Speaker of the House George Thompson, Lord Tonypandy, who apparently entertained lots of parents and boys on the train back up to London that evening; and the days outing for the whole school, teaching and non teaching staff and boys in a fleet of coaches to Alton Towers with a pig roast waiting for us when we got back.

This is already too long. One can go on indefinitely, and I've said nothing about studies - scandalous.

Reminiscences can give the impression that things should not change, that the past was always, somehow, better. Not so; institutions, like people, must develop and change; if they don't they stultify. I am always greatly cheered when I visit the school and see so much wonderful work going on and so many new developments.

Speech Day 1990

Speech Day 1990. "The man behind me (foreground) is the then chairman of the Trustees - Peter Dale - and the lady with my wife is Mrs Dale". DS


I am a Trustee of the Frank Buttle Trust, which shares in the funding at any one time of some 250 youngsters at schools up and down the country, youngsters whose circumstances are such that their interests are better served by their being in a different school to that which the state provides. Kingham Hill is the second largest provider of places for Buttle students, normally between 8 and 12 Kingham Hill children are there because of help from Buttle. It is relatively easy to produce the money; it is much more difficult to provide the support and nurture and education and opportunities that they so desperately need. I know from my work with Buttle that the record of the Hill is second to none in its success with the children it takes. The Founder would be proud.... and content.

David Shepherd

Kingham Hill 1975 to 1990.

Mr and Mrs Shepherd enjoying their retirement
Mr and Mrs Shepherd enjoying their retirement.

"And finally" - a couple of anecdotes received from David Shepherd.

I was the warden (head teacher) when Andrew Adonis was at school. I read in his article that he says he was 'no good at sport'. True - he even now is a relatively slight figure and so the hurly burly of rugby or basket ball clearly wasn't for him. But recognising that some kind of sporting achievement was helpful in establishing yourself in a boys school he made himself, through sheer determination and hard work, into a very competent cross country runner, to the extent that he won, if my memory serves me right, the mass cross country on one occasion. He is in this respect, as in so many others, a fine example of what can be achieved if you set your mind to it.

[Readers might like to read a BBC article in which Lord Andrew Adonis refers to his time at Kingham.]

Likewise Malcolm Brecht and his quite remarkable integrity. I was refereeing a rugby house match between Clyde - Malcolm was in Clyde - and another house, it doesn't matter which. Clyde had on the team a boy who was - how can I phrase this? - less than honourable. There was a clearing kick into touch by the other team, everyone was running back for the line out, Malcolm passed me with several of his team mates and turned to this boy as he passed and said, "Do that again, and I'll send you off!" This to a member of his own team! I'm afraid I as referee hadn't seen what he had done - shame on me! - but it was apparent that Malcolm wasn't prepared to have playing for a team of which he was captain someone who behaved in an unacceptable way.

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